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Vodafone: SPOOKS are plugged DIRECTLY into our network

Mobile giant's new legal trivia guide is this summer's beach read

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Vodafone has published a report detailing how cops, g-men and spies around the world tap into its systems – in some cases, directly hooking into phone networks without a warrant.

The dossier covers the 29 countries in which the mobile telco operates, including joint-ventures in Australia, Kenya and Fiji. The document [PDF] reveals the sorts of information agents can intercept, how people are tracked and snooped on in real-time, the steps (if any) that must be taken to request the data, and the laws allowing the g-men to do so.

The report carries a Creative Commons licence, and is published alongside figures disclosing how many demands for cooperation Voda has received from governments.

It comes just days after The Register exposed Vodafone Cable's involvement in a beyond-top-secret foreign surveillance base run by UK eavesdropping nerve-centre GCHQ.

Today, Vodafone's group privacy officer Stephen Deadman demanded an end to direct warrantless access to his company's communications systems by governments.

"These pipes exist, the direct access model exists," he told The Guardian.

"We are making a call to end direct access as a means of government agencies obtaining people's communication data. Without an official warrant, there is no external visibility.

"If we receive a demand we can push back against the agency. The fact that a government has to issue a piece of paper is an important constraint on how powers are used."

After flinging its work online, Voda declared this morning:

It has become clear that there is, in fact, very little coherence and consistency in law and agency and authority practice, even between neighbouring EU member states. There are also highly divergent views between governments on the most appropriate response to public demands for greater transparency, and public attitudes in response to government surveillance allegations can also vary greatly from one country to another.

Producing this sort of documentation really shouldn't be left to a telco, sniffed Vodafone, which argued that governments – particularly ones that claim to be transparent – should be informing the public about this sort of stuff.

Voda breaks down its stats on demands for assistance into two categories per country: requests for interception of communications aka wiretapping, and requests for metadata records, such as when and where calls were made.

But it's clear from the tables that various nations – from Egypt and India to South Africa and the UK – outlaw firms from publishing interception figures, so none are given in those cases.

Some states publish their own stats, and others – such as Kenya – forbid wiretapping by private telcos.

What we do know, according to Vodafone, is that Italy made 605,601 metadata requests, Spain made 48,679, France three and Belgium just two.

Meanwhile, some countries are pretty sweeping in their powers: in Qatar, surprise surprise, "nothing ... prohibits or infringes upon the rights of authorised governmental authorities to access confidential information or communication relating to a customer in accordance with the applicable laws”.

And while the UK the government will pay for the interception of communications, Albania will not.

Picking through the legal requirements, we see that Belgium has a detailed step-by-step process for the Director General of the State Security to follow when authorising interceptions – but it can also be authorised by a magistrate. And in Belgium, the king can ask telcos to switch off services.

In Australia there is a provision for the interception of communications without a warrant for the purposes of testing.

And, in all cases it seems, there is little means to appeal against a request: Vodafone notes that in the UK “the judiciary plays no role in the execution of the operational agreements between the intelligence agencies [and telcos]", for instance.

Voda intends to update its report annually and incorporate more statistics on what it has been asked to do and by whom. It's certainly not the first to publish figures on demands from governments. ®

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